Several murals painted during last year’s George Floyd protests have been brought together on the West Side to create a community garden that preserves the art and gives residents a place to reflect on them.
The murals form the backbone of the Sounding Boards Garden, built on a formerly vacant lot next to Harmony Community Church, 1908 S. Millard Ave. The church partnered with Eastlake Studio to create the garden, install the murals and build a performance area for neighbors to use.
“This was a vacant lot. There were just some cars piling up here. But we want to be a service to our community, with our community, and that means making beautiful spaces,” said James Brooks, pastor of Harmony Community Church.
Sounding Boards, a nonprofit launched by Eastlake, helped create the murals after last year’s protests. Since many storefronts had been damaged during civil unrest at the time, Sounding Boards brought together business owners and artists to paint murals on the plywood over the boarded-up windows.
The art pieces later were removed from the storefronts and put into storage before being repurposed for the community space.
The murals were designed to support the Black Lives Matter movement and amplify demands to end racial injustice. One piece painted by Chris Orta depicts a raised fist as an homage to the Black Power movement.
“No matter what, we always have the power to change things. All power to the people all the time,” Orta said.
Another mural, “If You Don’t Break The CHAIN … Who Will?,” shows the face of a Black child behind a chain with a broken link. Silhouettes represent the racial abuse Black people have suffered for centuries in the United States, from chattel slavery to lynchings to mass incarceration today.
“For as long as we can look back in history, there have been issues with racial inequality,” said Damon Lamar Reed, the artist behind the mural. “The chain is not only a physical restraint, but also a cycle that needs to be broken.”
The murals also form a semi-enclosed area around an elevated stage intended for community events and performances. The stage was designed by Eastlake Studio in collaboration with general contractor Redmond.
The back of the stage is built from a collage of plywood slats reassembled from other murals.
The garden is dedicated to families who have lost a loved one to violence and addiction, so residents can have a peaceful place to mourn and remember those that are gone.
“I see this project as a space that can be both healing and transformative for our families who grieve the loss of their loved ones, loved ones lost to senseless violence,” said Sue Foran, secretary for Harmony Community Cares, the church’s nonprofit that runs food and youth programs.
The transformation of vacant lot into Sounding Board Garden is part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial. This year’s theme, Available City, is about reimagining public space in ways that fulfill the needs of people living in the surrounding area.
The garden will also be a featured site for Open House Chicago this month. Visitors can see the murals and tour the church and garden as part of Open House events 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 16 and 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 17.